By Donald Teplyske
Big Country Bluegrass, out of Independence, Virginia, make a substantial promise on the lead track to their Let Them Know I’m From Virginia album:
Tonight we’re coming to your town
Going to fire up that bluegrass sound
Gonna tune the old banjo
Play like Scruggs and Bill Monroe
Because tonight we’re burning down the barn.
—Tracy O’Connell, “Burn the Barn”
And on this celebration of thirty years as an increasingly prominent bluegrass powerhouse, Big Country Bluegrass continue their industry ascension.
Built around Tommy (mandolin) and Teresa Sells (guitar and vocals, mostly tenor harmony,) Big Country Bluegrass have slowly chipped at barriers to become one of the most successful charting groups within the Rebel Records roster.
Boasting the powerful lead vocals of Eddie Gill (guitar) and exceptional playing from both Tim Laughlin (fiddle and harmony) and John Treadway (banjo and harmony,) as well as rock steady acoustic bass from Tony King, the group hits their 30th anniversary stronger than ever. Big Country Bluegrass make excellent song choices, largely eschewing ‘grassifying country hits in favor of revealing under-heard, quality songs.
Plowing through the tunes, Big Country Bluegrass rarely stops to catch their collective breath. With Gill’s voice propelling them forward, the group’s forte is most obviously straight-ahead ‘grass. “Burn the Barn,” “Me and Becky,” and “Detroit Blues” are full-bore in presentation. More subtle are the numbers Teresa Sells fronts, the homespun “Waste Not, Want Not,” and the sentimental “Flowers on Daddy’s Grave,” which comes from James King, a former member of Big Country Bluegrass.
When singing songs of faith (“Let Me Tell You One More Time About Jesus” and “Yes, I See God”) they do so with obvious conviction and belief. A pair of Tom T. and Dixie Hall songs, both familiar (“The Old Crooked Trail” and “If I Ever Get Home”) are mid-set highlights, with the title track bringing proceedings to a suitable close.
There is nothing fancy or headline grabbing about Big Country Bluegrass. Grounded in the Jimmy Martin tradition, they seemingly become more confident and competent with each recorded release. Let Them Know I’m From Virginia will satisfy fans of the group; those who have overlooked Big Country Bluegrass are encouraged to reconsider.